My Journey Through French Cinema (2016)

September 11th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Bertrand Tavernier | Doc | With Thierry Frémaux | France | 193′

Bertrand Tavernier’s love affair with film started with tragedy: as a child of the Liberation, in Lyon 1944, he was also a war child malnourished despite his middle class background. Tuberculosis was diagnosed and he was sent to convalesce in a St Gervais sanatorium where Sunday was dedicated to film. Thus began a life-long passion for film that permeates every frame of his three hour love letter to French cinema which every cineaste will devour with relish on the big screen, and rush to buy the bluray.

Tavernier, who also narrates in a chatty style, offers his unobtrusive but illuminating insights, adding value to the documentary, and is very much a part of the film history that unfolds, mostly from the 1930s,40s and 50s. Tavernier has made some memorable films and acted in others during his glittering career that began as an assistant to Jean-Pierre Melville and an press agent on Jean-Luc Godard; he also got to know many of the legends such as Jean Gabin, Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker and Claude Chabrol, to name but a few. Chocful of anecdotes and observations, this is an ntertaining flip through original footage and archive interviews, enlivened by film clips and posters.

At the same time, Tavernier offers up a critical masterclass in acting and directing as he dissects individual films – and even scenes – giving his two pennyworth on those who he felt deserved better, such as Marcel Carne, of qualifying the technical decisions that Jean Renoir’s made in La Chienne (1931), for example, but also pointing out how Renoir’s charm and desire to be liked could led him to embroider the facts, with the best possible intentions. The only minor criticism is the failure to identify each interviewee, so concentration is vital in order to keep up to speed with Tavernier’s narration.

French historian Thierry Fremaux has contributed by providing ideas for the many clips, so the three hour running time whisks by engagingly. Tavernier also hints at a sequel.  MT



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